Biggest Winners in London 2012 Women's Gymnastics: Raisman & Mustafina

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Biggest Winners in London 2012 Women's Gymnastics: Raisman & Mustafina
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Aly Raisman hugs her coach Mihai Brestyan after a near perfect routine in the floor finals.

At the end of the day, it wasn't reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber, newly-crowned Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas or Russia's brightest new star Viktoria Komova who would leave London's gymnastics arena as the biggest winners.

Instead, it was Team USA's most underappreciated overachiever, Aly Raisman, and former world champion (2010) turned comeback kid Aliya Mustafina who stole hearts, and medals, at these Games.

Raisman, perennially in third behind Wieber and Douglas all year long, not only edged both of them out in the team prelims to qualify as the top American gymnast for the all-around, but also went on to be among the top ranks in all finals she made.

Putting aside ridiculous and ever-evolving tiebreaking rules set by the Federation of International Gymnastics, Raisman was joint third-best in the all-around with Mustafina (59.566), a spot that should have been given to both (story for another day). 

And as if that wasn't enough, she clawed back on beam after some uncharacteristic wobbles (again on the pike front-to-layout step-out combination) to post a higher execution score than Romanian Catalina Ponor, the 2004 Olympic champion on that event. Initially awarded a lower overall score, Raisman was bumped up to third after an inquiry posted by Team USA that brought her start value up and took the bronze with the tiebreaker. 

Then came floor, and what a routine! One-and-a-half layout step-out to double arabian to a punch front layout—her signature first pass just upgraded this year—stuck cold. A fabulous piked double arabian right into a split leap was up next, then a nailed clean triple twist to end with a high-flying double pike into another leap, much more controlled than at Visas or Olympic Trials this year. A massive, massive 15.600 (execution 9.100!) was her reward.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Aliya Mustafina waves to an appreciative audience in London.

Nobody came close, not even Ponor, who, to her credit, performed nearly flawlessly too, sticking all of her passes (15.200; great, big double layout opener). 

The Romanians may not have been too happy with coming in second (and having Izbasa crash her 2.5 to 1/1), but over in another corner, Mustafina was absolutely elated with her third-place finish (14.900), and for good reason.

This gymnast has come a long way from tearing her left anterior cruciate ligament at last April's European World Championships. Once the world champion and dominant in all four events—read: capable of making all four event finals, which is very, very rare for a top all-around gymnast—Mustafina had looked to be replaced by her younger counterpart, Komova.

Indeed, the Russian team used her mostly as a starter on each team event, acknowledging her reliable performances—just as Raisman is known to be the solid one on Team USA—but also hinting that she was far from their strongest performer on three of the four apparatuses. 

Yet her elegance, incredible power, experience and captivating expressiveness kept her scores up, and she capped off her first Olympics with a team silver, two individual bronzes and a well-deserved gold medal on bars—the most successful gymnast among all the men and women in the medal count.

And both Raisman and Mustafina carried themselves with such humility and sportsmanship from performance to performance, quietly picking themselves up where they had fallen short and improving throughout the Games. 

Just a month ago, it was almost as if the world only cared about Wieber, Douglas, and Komova.

But now Raisman and Mustafina, who had previously been seen as the rocks of their respective teams, will be the ones walking away with the most hardware and the biggest smiles.

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